Sermon December 19 2021

In 2003 the American pop group The Black Eyed Peas released the lead single from their album Elephunk. one of the writers said that inspiration for the song came from the general anxiety following the attacks on Sept. 11. Over Christmas in 2001, just 3 months after the attacks, he wrote some of the music, shared it with his friend Justin Timberlake who helped write the chorus and then shared it with his band mates. There were some initial production challenges but when the song was released a few years later it was a break out hit for the group and garnered them two Grammy nods the following year.  The song is entitled, “Where Is the Love?”  and the group states that it is a protest song which takes an “Intersectional approach to societal criticism from a racial justice perspective.” I’m not going to sing or rap the song- I simply am not talented enough- but like Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire”,  the song references modern issues and challenges facing particularly marginalized people in North America. One part goes, “Father, father, father help us/ Send some guidance from above/’Cause people got me, got me questioning/ Where is the love?” It is challenging to think that a song that calls for love could be seen as revolutionary or as a protest song. Yet, like the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” or Costello’s “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding” the song “Where is the Love?” draws on the fact that within much of our every day- loving your neighbour- is more elusive than it should be. It may seem like a stretch- and I don’t want to claim that these pop songs have deep theological meaning- BUT Mary’s Magnificat is a protest song, is a revoluntionary song and is about reclaiming God’s love. It is also about asking, where is the love? Every year, at about this time, when we have been overly saturated by the “commercialism” of Christmas, I start to question where the love is too.

The love between Elizabeth and Mary is profoundly important to the story of the birth of Jesus. Those of us who have been participating in the Bible study got to study the Magnificat, Mary’s song, in detail.  They might recall how we discussed that Luke uses songs, not just Mary’s to make some theological claims on who Jesus is and what is expected of him. This song is called the Magnificat because Mary’s soul magnifies (magnificat) the Lord. Mary’s song also demonstrates who she is and what is expected of her. Despite the fact that she is clearly a strong person Mary would have been feeling very vulnerable given the strange circumstances around her pregnancy. It is no shock to us that she would go and spend time with Elizabeth, her elderly cousin who was also expecting. Mary needed to surround herself with love. Yes, she has assurance that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and that the most high will overshadow her. Yes, she knows that nothing is impossible with God. Yes, she has the support of Joseph who has also been visited by an angel. But, women’s bodies and choices have always been scrutinized and that was particularly true in first century Palestine. You’ve heard me say it before, according to Biblical law Joseph was within his right to request that Mary be stoned to death. We are not told why Mary goes to visit Elizabeth but staying in her community would not only have been uncomfortable but unsafe.

The narrative portion of what we heard this morning highlights this importance of finding love in the care, prophetic words and blessing of Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s words allow Mary to feel joy about this unusual pregnancy. As Mary approaches, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit- she becomes a prophet in her own right- and with her prophecy exclaims that Mary is blessed. What is interesting is that it is John who stirs the Spirit within Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s yet to be born son John recognizes Mary’s yet to be born son Jesus. It’s why the bulk of Advent focuses on John’s story. In truth, John is the first to recognize that Jesus is Lord, is Emmanuel, is God with us. It is John’s leap in his mother’s womb that allows Elizabeth to react with such jubilation which in turn allows Mary to sing her revolutionary song or say her prophetic protest words, and boy does she let loose.

The pure fact that it is Mary who makes these statements is revolutionary enough. This is one of the few texts in the Bible, where a woman is presented not only as a main character but speaks prophetically. It certainly mirrors Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 when she presents her son Samuel to God’s service. Both women proclaim that God is doing something not just for them but through them all people will be drawn in, to God. But it is rare to have records of women speaking in such a way. Note, I believe it is not that these occurrences of women speaking prophetically was rare but it was rare that it was recorded. Mary’s words also introduce a theme that will unfold throughout the books of Luke and Acts; that salvation comes through the reversal of the norm or status quo.

This reversal starts with Mary- a lowly servant of God who has been called blessed. Mary is not of high standing. There’s no real reason for us to even know her name. Until God chooses her, of all people, for this significant role. Mary’s own soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God. She recognizes her part within this story. But very quickly these words move from an individual to an entire nation, people, and society. Not only has Mary’s place in this world been reversed but then God, through Jesus, will reverse systems oppression. The powerful will be brought down and the lowly will be lifted up. Mary personifies a cultural shift.

But hang on, linguistically, something else is going on that is important to note. Unfortunately we lose a little in most of our English translations. In the NRSV Mary speaks in the perfect tense, as in, “He has shown strength, He has scattered, He has brought low, He has filled, He has helped” implying that the actions in the past continue on into the present. But in the original Greek they are all in the past tense- full stop. God showed strength, scattered, brought down, lifted, filled, helped; implying that the actions are completed. A great commentary by Wesley Allen Jr. pointed out that this means that Mary’s Magnificat is a paradoxical prophecy! “It speaks of a future God will bring in through the yet-to-be-born messiah using the past tense verbs. There is a sense, then, in which Luke is proclaiming that already at the point of awaiting the coming of the messiah, salvation is done deal. The paradox of the Magnificat is the paradox of our faith. This is the “already” and the “not yet” [that we speak of at this time of year]. Already the reign of God has arrived, but when we look around at the world we plead that God’s reign might yet come.” If Jesus’ birth meant a reversal of systemic oppression then why do we live in a world where we still have to ask ourselves, “Where is the love?” This is what Advent is all about. It is about the paradox of Jesus already in our midst and yet we wait, prepare, and hope for Christ to come.

I think Mary speaks this way because she is not only telling the world of her visions and hopes and truths about her son, about what is to come but because Mary has lived this reversal herself. She has experienced it first hand and she can now share this joy with the one other woman who understands what’s going on. Because Mary, a lowly servant has been called blessed, the lowly have been,  are and will be lifted up. Mary is stating that even before Jesus’ birth, God’s salvation has come, is here, and will come.

Where is the love? It is in the support Elizabeth gives this young unwed mother. Where is the love? It is in Mary’s prophetic and revolutionary song.  Where is the love? It is in a humble manger. Where is the Love? It is in a small vulnerable baby. Where is the love? It was strung up on a cross. Where is the love? It is still manifested each time we break down systems of oppression or hatred or inequality or inequity. Jesus is present, comes again, each time we respond to need, love our neighbour, turn our other cheek. Where is the love? It came down at Christmas. It is here among us. It will come again. Amen